Climate change may test lizards’ famous ability to tolerate the heat, making habitat protection vital, according to a new study by UBC and international biodiversity experts.
The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that as the world warms, most cold-blooded animals in tropical climates will rely on burrowing or finding shade to shield themselves from the sun. That makes protecting shady habitats essential.
“We know that a lot of organisms could survive if they spent many hours in a burrow, but we also know that they can’t spend all their time hiding from the sun,” says UBC climate-change ecologist Jennifer Sunday, lead author on the paper. “We will have to determine their limitations.”
The study looks at the heat and cold tolerance of 296 species of reptiles, insects and amphibians, known as ectotherms. Researchers discovered that regardless of latitude or elevation, cold-blooded animals across the world have similar limits.
“By comparing temperature tolerance limits to estimated body temperatures of animals exposed to the sun, we’ve found that species at low latitudes rely on shade and habitat,” says Sunday.. “Very few species have any extra heat tolerance.”
Sunday says more work is needed to understand species use of shade habitat.
More information: Article #13-16145: “Thermal safety margins and the necessity of thermoregulatory behavior across latitude and elevation,” by Jennifer M. Sunday et al.